The PLEA: The Bathroom Barrister

The PLEA: The Bathroom Barrister

Yes You Can! Sort of...

Almost all restaurants are required to have public washrooms. However, most businesses—while required to have washrooms for their employees—are not required to have public washrooms. But if you really have to go, what can you do? Are you entitled to use the bathroom of any private business?

In short, the answer is no.

However, there has been a movement afoot in the United States to change this. The Restroom Access Act, passed in Illinois in 2005, requires retail establishments to provide access to employee-only restrooms in the case of medical emergencies. Also known as Ally’s Law, the Restroom Access Act was spurred by Crohn’s Disease sufferer Ally Bain. Shopping in an Old Navy, she suddenly found herself in need of a restroom. Denied access to the employee restroom, Ally had an unfortunate accident in the store.

From a Negative to a Positive

Ally successfully lobbied the Illinois state government for a law so that this would never happen to anyone again. Today, versions of Ally’s Law are now in force in 12 states.

Given Ally’s experience, it is difficult to dispute the value of such legislation. This, however, has not stopped some online blog posters from criticizing it. And while it’s always healthy to critically question laws, what may be most surprising for Ally’s Law’s critics is the philosophical company they find themselves in. Those questioning its merits may share the perspective of Canada’s former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.

People Doing Good

To be clear, it appears that John Diefenbaker had no particular stance on restroom access. However, in his memoirs One Canada, Diefenbaker put forth a philosophy about the purpose of laws. Citing his most influential political science and law professor, Diefenbaker wrote:

“a people can never be made good by legislation, a point that many of us never learn.”

Whether or not you agree with Diefenbaker’s stance, he does raise a point worthy of debate. On its face, Ally’s Law does not make retailers good. Instead, Ally’s Law requires retailers to do good, by providing access to their washrooms.

The Diefenbathroom

Over 30 years after Diefenbaker’s passing, it is impossible to say exactly how he would react to Ally’s Law. But for what it’s worth, Diefenbaker House Museum in Prince Albert does have a public washroom. As Diefenbaker said, “there is an inherent fairness in people.”


  1. Should businesses be legislated to provide the public with access to their washrooms?
  2. What can we learn about society given the fact that several American states need to legislate that businesses allow customers to use their washrooms, even in an emergency?

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